In order to really travel and not merely ‘pass through’ a destination, discovering the authentic spirit of a place is a vital part of the experience. One way to achieve this is to seek out some of the lesser-known nuggets of history and culture and not simply rely on the rote narratives that are inevitably rolled out.
When in Rome, yes, you guessed it, you should indeed do as the Romans do! Which is look beneath the surface of the well-known iconic landmarks to find out some of the more engaging facts of their history. How do you do this? We think the best way is to join a Rome tour. You'll walk through the ancient streets of the city with a knowledgeable and passionate guide, who'll inspire you with the stories behind some of the world's greatest monuments.
Here are just a few examples of some of the quirky facts you could discover on a Rome tour.
The Perfectly Proportioned Pantheon
There would barely be a person who has come to the Eternal City in its history and not visited the Pantheon. As the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome, its indomitable creator, Hadrian (Rome's ‘Good Emperor'), has garnered awe and admiration for his astounding architectural achievement. While its elegance and beauty are obvious, in mathematical terms it is even more significant. The design is a precise incarnation of the rules of Classical architecture, in order to maximise the aesthetics of its scale and provide it with the perfect balanced proportions. In simple terms, its interior could contain a perfect sphere because the height and width of the building are identical (43.2m).
The Sistine Chapel Could Have Been So Different…
Thought you'd heard it all about Michelangelo's magnificent frescos that adorn the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel? Well, perhaps. But did you know that they nearly weren't the work of Michelangelo at all? When he was approached to work on the frescos of the chapel he was engaged in a very different project (a marble tomb for Pope Julius II), to which he was entirely devoted. He was also far more accomplished as a sculptor (and considered himself thus) and was very reluctant to take on the commission to paint frescos, of which he had no experience. In the end he grudgingly commenced work (also commissioned by Pope Julius II) and spent the next four years creating what is now considered one of the greatest masterpieces of the High Renaissance.
Meet You On the Spanish Steps
Since their construction in the early 1700s, the Scalina Spagna have been the most infamous ‘luogo d'incontro’ (meeting place) in Rome – playing host to countless gatherings and trysts over the centuries. But it didn't just happen by accident. The tradition stems from their popularity with writers and artists, who were inspired by their architectural beauty and lovely aspect. In turn, the beautiful women of the city came in the hopes of being chosen as models or muses. The presence of all those lovely young ladies then began to attract travellers and rich local men looking for a prize, and before long the steps became a place for everyone to meet.
The Best View of the City is Clear!
Love it or hate it, the early 20th-century monument to Vittorio Emanuele II (the first king of a unified Italy) is an irrefutable and immoveable part of the city skyline. Many locals are averse to its bright, white marble exterior and believe it's far too large and ostentatious. However, not quite hidden away at the rear, its most recent addition offers the best views over the Forum and the rest of the city you're likely to get from anywhere. It's even worth compromising a few aesthetic principles to capture what could be the best images of your Rome tour…
It's the Little Things
So often it's the small tidbits of local knowledge and lesser-known facts behind a famous historical site or monument that embed themselves in the hearts and minds of travellers. This is never more evident than on a Rome tour.
Rose Magers is an Australian-born Italophile and the founder of ArtViva. With an international reputation for excellence and creativity, ArtViva are at the forefront of escorted day tours in Italy. Rose has indulged her own passion for history and the arts by designing an innovative range of exceptional small group Rome tour itineraries and experiences, from guided visits to view the masterpieces of the great art galleries to unforgettable Italian cookery classes.